Translated by Janie Respitz
The sky was a prayer shawl woven from your prayers
But your moans drastically tore the fabric of your quiet melodies;
You lived with a reflection of untold dreams,
Like the shine of daylight in a dark well.
The thresholds of your houses block the abyss;
You sold herring to the peasants…but the ten commandments from Sinai
Lit up your shops.
Jewish towns from Poland and Lithuania, you lit up my heart and memory,
Therefore there is a ruined Western Wall my every wall.
by Avraham Krill
Translated by Meir Razy
Ignalina was a town like all other towns in Lithuania and Poland. It was founded at the end of the 19th century when the railroad line between Warsaw and St Petersburg was laid in the area.
As soon as the railway station was built, dozens of Jewish families who had previously lived in various villages in the area, began to flock to the town. Slowly, the Jewish community grew to 120 people, including 8 large families. The social composition was already an example of a classic Jewish town.
One of the first families was that of Shalom Leib Gordon, who later managed to control the wholesale trade of the town.
A unique character was Rabbi Aharon Chayat, who received a weekly salary for agreeing to be the first person to be buried in the new cemetery.
In addition, he was paid when he was included as the tenth person in a Minyan, or when he agreed to do the Aliya to the Torah in the Tochecha week (= the weekly Torah reading that includes many curses, Deuteronomy chapters 26-29).
The geography of the place affected the business and livelihoods of the Jewish population. The area was mountainous, surrounded by mountains and lakes on all sides. Some families lived only on fishing. They leased fishing rights to the lakes from the landowners and then sold the fish in Vilna or in the nearby towns.
One family made a living from cattle trading. The animals were led by foot to Vilna, although the distance was more than 100 kilometers. After the end of the Sabbath they would leave the town and arrive in Vilna on Tuesday morning. The cattle were corralled in the Horowitz family's yard on Antakoli Street.
The cattle merchant from Ignalina was known all over the area and farmers from all the surrounding villages came to trade with him during market days.
During the busy season, between Hanukkah and Passover, most of the inhabitants of the town were engaged in the cattle business, some directly and some indirectly. Some were agents or cattle walkers, some were guards and some worked in the slaughterhouse. The most famous of them was Fibke, the skinner.
A loyal servant to the group of cattle dealers was the slaughterer Rabbi Hanna Bin zl, one of the sons of Abraham Katz of Doglishuk[Daugelishak].
Rabbi Hanna was busy in the slaughterhouse until noon and then he would go to the synagogue to teach Torah.
He also influenced the rest of the slaughterhouse workers and many of them became educated. Rabbi Hanna was always proud of his entourage. Rabbi Hanna would also walk to Rimchetzna near Duksht[Dukstas] to slaughter cattle and chickens for Shabbat.
Some families owned lime and brick incinerators. The division of labor was this: they burned lime and bricks during the summer and in winter they produced turpentine and grease ointment from pine resin. Some famous forest merchants came from these families and they sold railroad ties and pillars for bridges.
These traders were led by Berl Soloveitchik and Shalom Leib Gordon.
The Jewish community in Ignalina had a unique social character. The leadership role was in the hands of ordinary Jews, not necessarily the rich ones. Public affairs were handled by those who were seated around the synagogue's stage, not the wealthy men who had their seats on the stage's east side.
The local market played a central role in the town's economic life. Market days took place every Thursday and many merchants as well as different types of businesses actually survived only from the revenues of this day. Craftsmen, such as shoemakers, diggers, and blacksmiths, received most of their orders on market days. Tailors were hired by the peasants for a whole week and they were paid not with money but with various produce.
It is worth mentioning one very interesting character from the market days - Pesia the baker. She was selling large variety pita bread: with onion or poppy seeds, with holes or smooth. She used to bring her products to the market early in the morning.
Vendors of cold drinks, such as apple juice or lemonade, would gather around her on hot summer days.
The peasants would go to the various inns to sip liquor in the afternoon. The result was that there were dozens of drunks in the town by market closing time. The clowns would call them Elka's Gentiles after the woman who sold resinous wine. Since it was forbidden, she used to keep the liquor in the tea samovar.
In time, this market became one of the largest markets in the province. The town was next to a train station and merchants came from far away and sometimes, sometimes even as far as Warsaw.
Large commercial buildings and various partnerships were established in the town. The most famous were two merchants, Korb and Israelowitz, who supplied agriculture and construction equipment and supplies just as business was done in the big cities.
The training drills of the firefighters, which usually took place during the summer months, played an important role in the social life of the town. These exercises also brought some excitement to the town: the bright brass helmets of the firemen, the glittering buttons, the big water tanks pulled by the horses and the sound of the trumpets energized the town for a few hours shaking it out of the doldrums that usually covered it. In addition, the Firehouse Hall served as a cultural and entertainment center for the town residents.
After the First World War, the Zionist movement began to develop. Yehuda Halperin, a beloved and intelligent man, a true Zionist and an enthusiast, arrived at that time and began assembling the nucleus of the first Zionist group in the town around him.
He gave public Torah lessons every evening and conducted Hebrew and Jewish history classes. In addition he even organized Gemara classes.
A public school was established in Ignalina after the war, where the language of instruction was Yiddish. An excellent Public Library of 1,500 books was built next door. It had a Reading Room that was open to the public every evening with various daily newspapers and magazines in Yiddish, Hebrew and Polish.
A very successful dramatic group operated next to the school. It performed plays from Yiddish literature and its income was dedicated to supporting the school and Library.
Little by little, youth organizations, especially Zionist ones were founded. They educated the town's residents about the pioneering spirit of national fulfillment in our ancient Homeland.
Many of the trainees immigrated to Israel and are living a life of labor and hard work here.
An independent training commune, recognized by the Hechalutz Center in Poland, was created near the town. It is interesting to note that despite the fact that all the teachers and cultural institutions were subject to a more Yiddish influence, most of the youth were educated by the Zionist movement and the Hechalutz in Hebrew.
After the end of the First World War and with the help of the YEKAPO, a Credit Fund was created in Ignalina. This fund played an important role in the economic life of the town. Among its founders were Mordechai Cessler and Gavenda of the Great Synagogue and Rabbi Hillel Krill of the Hasidic shtibl.
The Accounting Manager of the fund was Rabbi Aharon Chayat. This position provided him with an additional income above the salary he received from the synagogue and from the concession he held for selling yeast.
The entire public would go to the bathhouse every Friday and the on eve of the Holidays. There was real democracy in the bathhouse, and there was no difference between Yaakov Shlomo the wagon driver and the rich man Bromberg, the only owner of a two-story house in town.
The bathhouse was not only for bathing, but it was a place to discuss public issues and to argue about political problems.
In the summer, however, people did not go to the bathhouse but flocked to the lake shore instead. Vacationers from big cities used to come to town during the hot summer months. They rented apartments in the woods and enjoy their vacation near the lakes.
This was how life in Ignalina, private, public, and cultural life proceeded until the great oppressor destroyed and annihilated everything.
God will Avenge the blood of all the innocent victims who died for the Sanctification of God's name during the great and terrible Holocaust in the years 1941-1943.
Translated by Janie Respitz
In 1862, in a forest that belonged to the nobleman Kaminsky about 4 kilometres from the towns of Gavikan and Paliush, a train station was built called Ignalina. The station was on the railroad line that connected (St.) Peterburg and Warsaw, at the intersection of Vilna Dvinsk, and was not far the towns of Old and New Daugelishak. The first Jew to settle in Ignalina was Zvi Gordon. He leased a piece of land from Kaminsky and built a house and a store. He began dealing in lumber. He brought salt in special wagons and would sell it to the shopkeepers in the surrounding towns. In order that the wagons did return empty, he would buy various wheats, seeds and flax from the peasants and would export to the larger cities, even out of the country. A few Jewish workers and employees worked for Gordon. At his request they settled in Ignalina and this is how a Jewish community began near the train station.
The first Jewish settlers were: Mikhl Postavski, Bitshunsky, Moishe Peretz Guterman and Nekhemiah Brumberg.
The last one was actually the manager of all of Gordon's businesses and left a large impression on the small community. A bit later, other Jewish families from surrounding villages began to arrive. Among those who settled were, Nekhemiah, the father of Moishe Yose Soloveychik from Zabartze who began to work as a butcher. Eliezer Kraytzer, who laid stones for the railway.
The blacksmith Henekh Reichel from Vidishok. Yehuda Kril from Budri, who would bring mortar. Mikhl Yerakhmiel, the tailor from Tzeikin; Shloimeh Ikhiltsik, who bought up the bark from a leather factory in Dvinsk and Abba Yitzkhak Gurvitch.
Meanwhile, Nekhemiah Brumberg bought a small piece of land from the nobleman on the other side of the railroad in Zalesia. He built a house and a store. He was followed by other Jews including Moishe Yose Soloveychik and Berl Gilinsky and a community was established on the other side of the tracks.
The town grew day by day. Businesses were opened as well as handicraft workshops and warehouses. Quickly, Gordon, the wealthy man, bought another house and organized the first Minyan. (Quorum of ten Jews needed for prayer). He also built a wash house. It did not take long until the small community decided to bring a Rabbi and officially establish a new Jewish community.
The first Rabbi in Ignalina was Moishe Aaron Chait, a young man from Kurland, who had studied in the Lid Yeshiva and received his ordination from Rabbi Yakov Yitzkhak Raynes of blessed memory.
Rabbi Moishe Aaron Chait was the soninlaw of Rabinovitch, the owner of the tobacco factory in Svencionys.
The old nobleman Kaminsky died. His huge fortune went to his son Vincenti who served in the Pope's Guard in Rome.
He immediately returned from Italy to take over his father's businesses. The young nobleman was a playboy who enjoyed whisky and cards.
In order to have a lot of cash, he sold some properties and rented out other places. Thanks to this, Ignalina began to spread in all directions. Tens of houses and stores were built.
By 1903 there were more than 30 Jewish families in Ignalina, around 200 people.
In 1905, it was decided that every Thursday a market would take place in town. This is how Ignalina became a business centre.
Peasants and peddlers would come to the market from all the surrounding towns.
Ignalina soon became a town like all others.
The market brought in great revenue, and the Jewish population became well established.
The town continued to grow and no doubt would have developed further had not the First World War suddenly broken out. This immediately stopped the growth of the newly founded Ignalina.
During the First World War the first line of the front was not far from Ignalina. Whoever had the opportunity, left town. The Germans took whatever they could from our town. They sent wood, wheat, fruit and other life sustaining goods to Germany.
There was great poverty and many families suffered from hunger.
No one in those years remembered how the town once was. When the Germans left and the town was occupied by the Red Army, the situation did not improve.
Only when the Polish authority arrived and created a border between Poland and Lithuania, the people of Ignalina caught their breath, and life began to develop again.
The Paliush Lake was on the border. The Jews of Gavikan and Paliush made a good living from it, but they did not want to live so close to the border, so they moved to Ignalina.
This is what the marketplace looked like on every day of the week. It looked different on Thursdays when the fair took place. Merchants would come from the surrounding area, set up stalls with various goods and loud noises would fill the air. The colours of the various fabrics, wool products, peasant ribbons, kerchiefs, clothing and rugs sparkled. Hanging on poles were boots and sandals, caps and hats, pelts and jackets that Jewish artisans brought from their poor workshops, together with the red hot colour of the peasant's beads that shone a light on the pearls of the modest kerchiefs, wigs and necks of the Jewish women.
Jewish Folk Shul 1922
Seated in the middle: The Board of Directors Khaim Gilinsky, Nekhemiah Brumberg, the teacher, Bere Gilinsky, Dovid Eynhorn
From right: ____, _____, _____, Shaul Kuritsky, ___, ____, ____, Velvl Kril, Moishe Korb, Avrom Soloveychik, ____, ____, Shmuel Dubinsky, Ruven Brumberg, Dovid Postavsky, ____, Yisroel Gilinsky, Khaninya Bitshunsky, ___, ___, Nosn Shapiro, Rivke Gilinsky, Rokhl Eynhorn, ___, ___, Binyomin Aron, ____, Moishe Eynhorn, ____, ____, ____, ___, Yitzkhok Gilinsky, ___, ___, ___, ___, ___, Rivke Dubinsky, ___, Etke Gilinsky, ___, ___, ___, Rayzl Gilinsky, ____, ___, ____, Feyge Elperin, Beyle Soloveychik, ___, ___, ____
The new residents of the town, the Gilinskys and Eynhorns brought their fish and lumber businesses. The situation began to improve. There were always Polish military in Ignalina and Jewish merchants supplied them with meat. It provided all the butchers with work.
Soon the butchers in Ignalina were supplying meat to other military camps. The town became a meat business centre. A few years later they were transporting meat to Vilna and Warsaw. Those involved were: Hillel Kril, Yose Gendl, Aaron Soleveychik, Ruven Cohen, Dovid Ritveh, and Yosl Eynhorn. This was a cooperative subsidized by an organization (YEKOPO) in Vilna.
Ignalina also became the centre of smuggling with Lithuania. They would send manufactured goods and industrial products, and from there bring sugar, pepper, saccharine. These items were much cheaper in Lithuania than in Poland.
The Muskin brothers had a big wheat business. Yisroel Noyekh Aron dealt in skins and leather.
Yose Rapaport, Tevye Solomiak, Ruven Kuritsky and other Jewish merchants dealt in fruits and berries that were sent to Vina, Warsaw, Lodz and Katovitz.
The lumber industry held an important place in Ignalina. The families involve were: Gilinsky, Korb, and Berl Soloveychik.
These seven good years did not last long. In Poland in general, and particularly on the estates, a difficult crisis broke out and Jews were caught in the middle. The Jews in the towns suffered greatly from the expulsion politics of the Polish government. It was not only the merchants who suffered, but the artisans as well.
This ruined the economic situation of Ignalina. According to the records of the Vilna YEKOPO from 1928, there were 250 families living in Ignalina, including 150 Jewish ones.
The Jews were involved in business, storekeeping and handiwork. 47% worked in stores and small business and 23% were artisans.
The Christian cooperative brought down the Jewish businesses. Because they received cheaper credit from both the banks and the government, it was easy for them to compete with the Jews. Besides this, the cooperative was also supported by the township. The cooperative also had a lending and saving treasury.
In the town there were two Christian stores and all the Christians shopped mainly there.
The surrounding villages also had small cooperatives so it was not necessary for the peasants to come to town to shop on market days. We have to keep in mind that the surrounding area was very poor. The terrain was sandy and covered with forests. There were also many lakes.
This goes to say that the village peasant was very poor and his buying power was minimal. Even the dealings with wheat, seeds and superphosphates were in the hands of the Christian cooperative.
The expulsion process also harmed the Jewish artisans. The Jewish shoemakers, tailors and blacksmiths suffered from the competition of the Christian workers.
The only branch where the situation was not bad was in the meat business.
The lumber business that had always been in Jewish hands was slowly being taken over by the government, resulting in many Jews losing their jobs.
A branch of HeChalutz (Zionist youth group)
Lying down: Moishe Korb, Zev Kril, Moishe Soloveychik
Kneeling: Eleh Soloveychik, Dobe Katz, Rivke Sharfman, Frume Krimilisky, Khane Elperin
Standing: Feyge Elperin, Khane Gilinsky, Khanokh, Rokhl, Rayze Gilinsky
All the above mentioned reasons impoverished the Jewish community. Many lived off aid they received from relatives in America.
Social and Cultural Institutions
Before the war, the Jewish children studied in Heders like everywhere else. In 1910 a Jewish Folk Shul was founded, which had a modern and traditional teacher. The founder of the school was Shloime Krytzer with the help of Heshl Gurvitch from NewSvencionys.
In 1922 the school officially joined TSYSHO. By 1925, 52 children attended the Jewish school. Since the Tsysho was antiZionist, the Zionists in Ignalina opened a Tarbut school in 1928 which quickly developed. The town had 2 Jewish elementary schools. The graduates of both schools would go on to study in Vilna in the local seminaries and high schools.
Ignalina had a fine Jewish intellect. There were useful cultural organizations, including a Jewish public library which had a collection of Yiddish and Hebrew books.
The leadership of the youth looked for ways to raise the cultural level in town.
To reach this goal they founded a horn orchestra, which had a great reputation in the region.
The departure of Khane Elperin Shnayder
Eliezer Shapiro, Basia Gilinsky, Avrom Aron, Feyge Elperin, Rayze Gilinsky, Khasye Rapaport, Hene Elperin, Nekhe Gordon, Feyge Dubinsky, Tevye Tzinman, Rivke Sharpman, Rokhl Eynhorn, Esther Gilinsky, Leah Rapaport, Rivke Bank, Shloime Kuritsky, Khaya Soreh Rabinovitch, Khave Lukner, Shayne Shnayderovitch, Rokhl Rapaport
The sports club and fire fighters also helped to enrich the social life in town. Both Hechalutz and Shomer Ha Tzair were founded as well.
Finally, we must mention two economic institutions which helped
ease the life of the Jews in Ignalina between the two World Wars. They were: The Jewish People's Bank, and the Interest Free Loan Society.
The Jewish population had to work very hard to earn a living, teach their children and carry out certain cultural activities.
Jewish People's Bank of Ignalina (Written in Polish and Yiddish)
Seated: Shayne Shnayderovitch, Dovid Ritvo, Hillel Kril, Khone Ruven Liberman
Standing: Motl Tsesler, Berl Gilinsky, Ruven Kagan, _____, Tevye Solomiak, Lipke Tsesler
Gathering of HaShomer HaTzair
NewSvencionys, Podbrodz, Ignalina 1928
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